Presenting wildlife cybercrime investigation results to the G7

The past year has seen the numbers of poached rhinos soar, with South Africa losing a record 1,215 rhinos in 2014.Wildlife cybercrime is rising to the fore on the political and enforcement agenda. For the first time ever, G7 members met this week to discuss the escalating problems of wildlife crime and its links to serious and organised crime.

The past year has seen the numbers of poached rhinos soar, with South Africa losing a record 1,215 rhinos in 2014, approximately a 21 per cent increase on 2013. Meanwhile, elephants continue to be slaughtered in their tens of thousands to supply the illegal ivory trade.

SEE ALSO: Kenya’s World Wildlife Day ivory burn carries on tradition, further builds momentum

Smuggling large amounts of ivory and other wildlife products from Africa to the Far East requires extensive international criminal networks and these criminals will stop at nothing to ensure they make their profits, killing rangers and threatening local communities that stand in their way.

The Group of Seven, known as the G7, includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, The United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

The event was designed to bring together seven advanced global economies to discuss economic policies but over time has grown to have a far wider remit including addressing pressing concerns like serious and organised crime and terrorism with the support of international governmental organisations such as INTERPOL and the United Nations.

I recently had the unprecedented opportunity to brief G7 members on IFAW’s work to tackle wildlife cybercrime. This included a discussion on the findings of our investigation and report into online wildlife trade entitled Wanted – Dead or Alive released late last year.  

In a six-week period in 2014 IFAW investigators scrutinised the trade in endangered wildlife taking place on 280 online marketplaces in 16 countries. IFAW found a total of 33,006 endangered animals and wildlife products available for sale in 9,482 advertisements, estimated to be worth a minimum of almost US$11 million.

I was able to highlight that there are already proven links between wildlife cybercrime and organised crime. One such example emerged during routine monitoring of Chinese online marketplaces when investigators found a website that not only sold what we believed to be illegal wildlife but also hunting equipment.

This information was passed onto Chinese law enforcers, who carried out a further investigation involving a raid on a property linked to the website. This in turn led to the discovery of a ring of illegal weapons makers, implicating 540 suspects in 30 Chinese provinces. The authorities confiscated 590 weapons, 150,000 bullets, 640,000 weapon-making parts, and 2,072 pounds (940 kg) of ammunition.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) provided an excellent example to the G7 members of how it is possible to tackle this problem through effective enforcement. Following IFAW’s 2008 investigation Killing with Keystrokes, the USFWS launched Operation Cyberwild targeting wildlife cybercriminals in Los Angeles.

In July 2013 they ramped up their efforts, launching Operation Wild Web with the support of research from IFAW and the Humane Society US. This resulted in 154 perpetrators being charged with wildlife crime offences following an online investigation.

It is tragic that wildlife crime has reached such an enormous scale that it needs to be confronted by world leaders, but the fact that the G7 are serious about stamping out this criminality gives me hope that we can start to turn the tide in favour of both wild animals and the local communities who benefit from their existence.

--TMC

Learn more about IFAW efforts to combat wildlife crime, visit our campaign page.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy